The Art of War: A Strategic Success in Gaza?

Nothing would benefit Iran more than to have Israel fighting in Gaza and diverting world attention from the bomb.

Att'y Joseph M. Sabag,

The specter of a nuclear Iran is looming large on the horizon.

If there is one book that we should hope Benjamin Netanyahu studies daily in order to appreciate his responsibility as Prime Minister, it is obviously the Torah. If there is another book that we should hope PM Netanyahu studies daily, in order to understand how he must carry out this responsibility, it is The Art of War by Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese military treatise generally regarded as history’s most definitive guide to the use of strategy and tactics. Let us pray that he keeps
Even many of Israel’s best supporters have yet to fully appreciate how alone PM Netanyahu is in confronting the Iranian nuclear threat.
copies of both nearby at all times.

The quality of the outcome of Operation Protective Edge and the Prime Minister’s performance will continue to be debated for quite some time. In the political sense it is not difficult to find failure. Yet, although Bibi again seems to have given us reason to criticize his response to Palestinian-Arab terrorism and other attacks upon the legitimacy of Israel’s sovereignty and self-defense, we would be gravely mistaken not to try analyzing the operation within a far more important context and timeline – Iran. It is there that we must hope that some strategic advance was accomplished.

Iran is the root of the problem. Hamas functions as a tentacle of Iran, upon whom its dependence has greatly increased since the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. In fact, just days ago, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asserted thatHamas’ military “victory” was only possible thanks to Iranian support. Hamas is just one of the vicious proxies funded and armed by Iran in its war against Israel and the West.

Israel managed to inflict a significant amount of damage upon Hamas from the periphery of Gaza and through remote technological means. Estimates suggest that approximately 70% of their rocket arsenal was depleted or eliminated. Their vast network of tunnels, in which the terror group had invested years’ worth of resources and operational planning were destroyed.

Hamas’ chain of command and logistical capabilities have reportedly experienced temporary breakdowns as a result of the loss of several top commanders. The cockroaches that have crawled out from beneath the rubble, despite the need to beat their chests in front of their public, cannot be pleased by Israel’s effectiveness. Iran cannot be pleased either, having had the operational capacity of its proxy so significantly diminished at a time when it may need to be called upon to create further diversion. 

Setting aside the upsetting manner in which cease fires were repeatedly accepted by PM Netanyahu, the Law of Diminishing Returns seems to have kicked in at the point at which the IDF was pulled back.  Having met the goal of largely downgrading Hamas’ operating capacity, although admittedly not to the full extent desired in the public and political realms, it seems that not much more could have been accomplished without engaging a major ground invasion of Gaza. In that event, the cost of economic and political capital would have dramatically escalated in virtually no time, and that is before even taking into account the spike in IDF casualties to be expected in such urban combat.

Nothing would benefit Iran more than to have Israel’s leadership lack the self-discipline needed to avoid a costly, cumbersome and time-consuming diversion as it enters the final months of developing its nuclear capabilities. Hamas can be dealt with later.

Israel’s greatest concern at the moment must be the willingness of President Obama, Secretary Kerry and the rest of the International Community to play the role of the trusting fool, being strung along until Iran inevitably unveils the not-so-surprising accomplishment of its objective. Indeed, they continue to move the goal posts within the indefinite timeline of “negotiations” with no regard for the finite consequences of granting Iran the precious time it seeks to complete development of its nuclear breakout capability.

This problem will soon be further complicated as the Obama Administration will almost certainly seek to attribute goodwill intentions to whatever coordination Iran may provide in confronting the Islamic State entity, despite all of the Mullahs’ obviously self-serving reasons to do so.

PM Netanyahu is the only one standing in the way, and he must have his hands free politically as he works to focus the World’s attention on Iran. If this is in fact his calculus, then it appears he was correct in judging that now is not the right time to engage further in Gaza.  

Unfortunately, even many of Israel’s best supporters have yet to fully appreciate how alone PM Netanyahu is in confronting the Iranian nuclear threat. Attempting to mobilize an international response will likely be the most difficult political challenge PM Netanyahu will ever face.

Even in the all-important United States, where public support for Israel has reached a high mark, President Obama was nevertheless capable of subduing Israel’s most important political asset in the matter – AIPAC. Beginning with the late-November announcement by Majority Leader Harry Reid that further sanctions against Iran would not be put to a vote in the Senate - despite having passed the House by a margin of 400-2 - AIPAC has been intimidated into ignoring the very core of its mission, explaining away its steady lowering of the bar of Congressional action in defiance of everything we know about Iran’s activities and intentions.

Of further distraction are the well-known commentators being wheeled out in their defense, who offer up steaming piles of apologetics and “take my word for it” excuses. In speaking to the very heart of the matter, Jonathan Tobin recently went so far as to pontificate - without any substantiation whatsoever – that “no matter how much support AIPAC can amass on Capitol Hill, no lobbying group can beat the occupant of the mansion at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue if they go all in on a specific issue.” Many would strongly disagree with his assumption, and argue further that Iran’s nuclear development is precisely the type of threat that demands all-out action no matter the cost or risk of defeat. Though it may not have suited fundraising efforts, or made for an easy time at many of its Capitol Hill meetings and cocktail parties, a mere threat from AIPAC that it would advise the withholding of campaign donations to Democrats during this critical election cycle until sanctions are restored and tightened could likely have made a material difference.

As painful as it may be to admit, Bibi has been isolated politically, even in the USA where public support is high. He will have to maneuver almost entirely on the basis of strategy given the few political assets at his disposal.

All of this emphasizes the importance of PM Netanyahu’s ability to think, plan and act strategically – to engage in The Art of War. Among the most important of Sun Tzu’s cautions is that “The formation and procedure used by the military should not be divulged beforehand.” With loose lips and opportunists abounding, we must understand that this admonition applies to most of the Knesset’s membership as well, thus leaving them to engage blindly in their political devices.

The show must go on as they say. Nevertheless, let us keep our heads knowing that it is possible that Operation Protective Edge may yet prove to have been a strategic success. Only time will tell, as Bibi now turns to face Iran.